Tonight is Forever

Well, it’s more like weeks are forever in this pandemic-riddled world in which we live these days, but onward we go.

As I often say–and you may perhaps be tired of hearing–the best writing and the best television/films always somehow give me inspiration–whether it’s to do better as a writer myself, or with story ideas. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, as previously mentioned, has flooded me with memories of life in suburbs and in California ones, specifically. I’ve never done a lot of writing about California–the Frat Boy books are my primary novels set in California, and both Sorceress and Sleeping Angel are also set there (the latter, though, are set in a small town in the mountains rather than a small city, like Fresno, which is what I converted to the small city of Polk in the first two Frat Boy books; the coastal small city in the final Frat Boy novel is based on Santa Barbara)–so maybe I’ve done more writing than I would have initially thought about California. But I’ve never done anything suburban in California, I guess, which is the correct way of phrasing that.

And as I said to my friend Megan once, what is more noir than the suburbs?

I did finish reading Cottonmouths finally last night; more on that later, but for now I will say it is wonderful. I greatly enjoyed it, and I am really excited to sink my teeth into Blacktop Wasteland now.

I also decided to change the title of “After the Party” to “A Dirge in the Dark,” which is creepier. I didn’t like that original title, and this was a most unusual story for me in that I had started writing something that not only didn’t have a title, but one didn’t leap out at me–and for me to save the document I needed to name the file. I know, it’s insane, but that’s just how my mind works around here in the Lost Apartment; I think I have two folders in my entire computer that are “untitled noir story” and “untitled haunted house story”; which really tells me nothing so when I go in search of the files to work on them some more I would never find them–especially if I had about a million other folders with “unnamed” in the title somewhere.

Today is my work at home day–one of two–which is nice, which means I don’t need to shave or even shower, if I don’t want to–but I probably should, as it always makes me wake up and feel better just in general. I’m a bit groggy this morning, certainly more groggy than I have been the last two mornings–which is NOT a good sign by any means–but I am hoping the coffee will take care of that. I’ve not had a good deep sleep now for several nights running–I have slept, but I’ve not gone deep into the sleep; I wake up sporadically and then it takes me a while to get back to sleep, and I noticed, for example, yesterday that my legs were tired when I was climbing the steps in the house. I am sure a lot of this had to do with lack of physical activity since my gym closed, but with our cases going up again here in New Orleans (thanks, stupid people!) I am pretty confident the city is going to be shutting back down almost completely again soon, and it simply doesn’t make a lot of sense to spend the money to join a gym that may only be open again for a few days.

I guess I can start stretching here at home, doing crunches and pushups and weightless squats. It’s a thought–and seriously, anything that will help me to sleep better is certainly going to be welcomed.

It’s just so disappointing because I was really making progress at the gym before it closed for good.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, one and all.

West End Girls

Well, we made it to Wednesday, did we not? It’s also Payday, aka Pay-the-Bills Day, which of course is always a popular day around here–NOT.

But I managed to write another 1300 words yesterday on something–not Bury Me in Shadows, I am putting that off until the weekend, when I will have time to sit down and reread the entire manuscript (I am already rewriting the first chapter in my head; it’s main character is transitioning from a high school student to a college student suffering from depression); instead I had a thought about a bunch of fragments, ideas and the occasional scene, of a something that needs to be stitched together and an ending tacked onto it called “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” which I’ve been fragmentally writing for several years now. It’s a Corinth County, Alabama story; set in the distant past of the mid to late (vague, will depend on the music choices) 1970’s, in the point of view of a thirteen year old. I don’t quite have the voice or tone right yet; that’s going to have to wait until I have the entire thing stitched together. It’s already well over 6000 words and I did originally think it might be the seeds of a novel, but I don’t think there’s really quite enough story to flesh out a novel but a length of somewhere between twenty and thirty thousand might just be right for it. My publisher does publish ebook novellas, and that might be the right place for it–plus it can always go into the anchor position of a collection.

It’s weird to feel so good about so many things.

I was hesitant to write the story, because I’ve already gone to that well twice already–“Smalltown Boy” and “Son of a Preacher Man”–but I have also realized all of my stories don’t necessarily need to be connected, but there’s also a way at some point to connect all of these stories together. I’m not certain why I am always so determined to connect my stories together; my young adults–Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, Sara, Lake Thirteen and others–are all loosely connected; I’d wanted to do an entire series of young adult horror/suspense that were connected together by threads; Laura in Sorceress was from the same place in Kansas where Sara took place; one of the characters in Sara was from the Chicago suburb the main character of Lake Thirteen was from; and of course, both Sleeping Angel and Sorceress took place in the same California mountain town. There’s another I’ve written that’s been languishing forever in a drawer that is also set in Woodbridge, and I keep forgetting about it, to tell you the truth. This is why I had that OCD moment a few weeks back and counted how many things I had in progress, in a vain attempt to get a handle on it all.

I suppose I could create a spreadsheet. But Lord, another thing to do? Then again, it could keep me from writing–that weird dichotomy of hating to do something I actually love to do. I am sure my great mood lately has everything to do with having written, and doing good work recently; I actually am looking forward to getting all my work done today so I can dive back into the story. I’d love to have it finished by the weekend, but I don’t necessarily have to have it finished in order to start the reread of Bury Me in Shadows; with the sweeping changes I am going to making to it, it will be mostly to see what I can actually keep and still works with the age changes for the main character.

We are almost finished with Dark Desire, and I have to say I am quite impressed with the writers of this show; it has so many twists and turns! Every time we start to think we know what the truth is we get shocked by an out-of-nowhere twist, and the personal stories are so complicated and messy! We had started to get a little bored with it around the sixth or seventh episode (maybe?) because it seemed relatively predictable; boy, were we ever wrong! Tonight we’ll polish off the last four episodes–they are only about thirty-three minutes long–and then we’ll have to decide what to watch next. There are so many choices!

It seems like it was just yesterday we were complaining about the trouble finding something we wanted to watch–but realitically, I was just thinking last night how we’ve watched so much stuff we can’t even remember it all.

And on that note tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely morning, Constant Reader.

Always

Kansas.

We moved to Kansas the summer I turned fifteen. It was a bit of culture shock; we’d been living a middle-to-upper middle class suburb of Chicago for about four years then, after spending eight or nine years in a working-class, very blue-collar neighborhood in Chicago, populated primarily with eastern European immigrants, or second, maybe third, generation Americans from central to eastern Europe. All I really knew about Kansas, before moving there, was that it had been a part of the Dust Bowl during the depression; I’d read about “bleeding Kansas” in history books; and of course, tornadoes and The Wizard of Oz (which is a movie I’ve never cared for; I watched it once as a kid and never again). Neither Nancy Drew nor the Hardy Boys ever had an adventure there; nor had any of the other kids’ series or Scholastic Book Club mysteries I’d read. But it was in Kansas that I actually started writing seriously, and began to think about being a writer when I grew up. (It was also in Kansas that I had the bad creative writing professor, and other bad history professors; I actually cannot think of a single decent teacher I had at the university level in Kansas–but then again, I was incredibly miserable when I lived in Kansas and it’s entirely possible that misery bled over into every other aspect of my life.)

I also don’t want to make it seem as though the five or so years I spent there were completely miserable. I did have fun–I was always desperately trying to have fun to distract me from the terror that arose from my sexuality, which was a secret that must be guarded from everyone at all times; it’s laughable to think about it now, but that terror was very real to me then.

It was in Kansas I started writing about teenagers, and while none of that stuff I’d written was publishable–I still have the handwritten novel I started writing there somewhere; the thought of rereading it turns my stomach as I can only imagine how incredibly bad, trite, and cliched it all was–but those characters have lived on and appeared in my actual published work as an adult; primarily I kept the character names and the basis of who they were, fleshing them out and (hopefully) making them three dimensional. Sara is, to date, the only book I’ve published that is set in Kansas; Laura, the main character in Sorceress, is also from Kansas–but the book is set in California. And of course I’ve been playing with the Kansas book now for something like fifteen years–hopefully, that will be finished and done this year.

I love to read about Kansas, and two of my favorite crime writers–Lori Roy and Sara Paretsky–are also from Kansas; Lori’s first novel, Bent Road (it’s brilliant, as is everything she writes) is set in Kansas; Sara, of course, primarily writes about Chicago but wrote a stand alone several years ago called Bleeding Kansas I’ve always wanted to get around to. Nancy Pickard also wrote two stunningly brilliant novels set in Kansas–The Virgin of Small Plains and The Scent of Rain and Lightning; I cannot recommend them enough. One cannot talk about Kansas books, either, without mentioning Truman Capote’s “true crime novel” In Cold Blood, which I like to reread every now and then.

There’s just something noir about Kansas; I don’t know how to describe it, or why it feels that way to me; but there’s just something about the wide open spaces and the wind, that Peyton Place-like feel to the small cities…Emporia (the county seat; we lived about eight miles out of town in an even smaller town called Americus) even had its own full blown scandal where a minister and the church secretary had an affair and murdered their spouses; it was even made into a two-part mini-series filmed on location in Emporia starring Jobeth Williams as the femme fatale. Those small towns, scattered all over the northern part of Lyon County, once thriving and bustling but now barely hand on when I lived there…the abandoned schools, still standing (they’d all been consolidated into one high school in the 1950’s) in the emptying little towns…our consolidated high school, out in the middle of the country with the football field backing up to a pasture; and the explosive boredom for teenagers. I always turn back to Kansas somehow, whenever I am thinking creatively or wanting to write a new short story–so much material, really. Emporia even had a cult; the old Presbyterian College of Emporia had gone bankrupt sometime in the early 1970’s and The Way International had bought the campus, turning it into The Way College of Emporia and I have to tell you, those kids from The Way College were terrifying–and there were lots of stories and urban legends about what went on there on that campus; how much was true I’ll probably never know, but I do know they used to have armed security guards patrolling the edge of campus, and every teenager knew not to ever get cornered anywhere with no possible escape by two or more of those kids….they always traveled in groups, never less than two and rarely more than six, but always in multiples of two. They always looked very clean cut, but you knew them by the nametags they were required to wear, their empty glassy eyes, and the big smiles on their faces.

There’s also the story of the bloody Benders, serial killers who operated an inn and murdered their guests in the nineteenth century before disappearing; I’m sure every nook and cranny of Kansas has some kind of horrible tale of murder hidden away.

And about three or four miles from our high school–you had to turn right when you reached the state road from Americus to get there; if you turned left towards Council Grove you’d pass this place: an abandoned nuclear missile base, that is still there. We used to go there sometimes for kicks–opening the door and listening to the strange sounds from deep inside and water dripping. I had plenty of nightmares about that missile base.

But the only other gay novelist I know from Kansas is Scott Heim (or at least the only one I know of who sometimes writes about Kansas). I read his debut novel Mysterious Skin sometime in the mid to late 1990’s, and was blown away by it (the film is also quite good). Mysterious Skin is set in Kansas, of course, and while it is a literary novel, and a quite good one, for me there were some elements of noir to the story; I have moved it to the The Reread Project pile and hope to get to it again relatively soon, so i can discuss it with more credibility and authority. I’ve not had the opportunity to read his other two novels, In Awe and We Disappear, but I’m adding them to the “need to get a copy” list.

Over this past weekend I read a short story Scott wrote for Amazon; part of something called The Disorder Collection, along with stories from several other authors. You can buy “Loam” here; it’s well worth the ninety-nine cents.

We agreed to share the driving. The early-morning flights had left us feeling run-down, but my sisters said my eyes looked the least bleary, so I should drive first. The clouds had gone gray; it had started to rain. But we could take our time. The afternoon we’d been dreading lay before us in hot, wet highways flanked by sorghum and corn and glistening shocks of wheat. It was late summer, already harvest season, and the fields shuddered in the wind, the grains full and heavy as though fed with blood.

At the rental counter, a cheery, silver-haired clerk had offered us a white sedan, but Louise had disapproved. “A simple compact is fine,” she said, “and no extra options. Just make sure it’s as black as possible. Is ‘funeral black’ a color?” She’d glanced across the desk to Miriam and me, urging us to smile. No one had smiled since we’d met in the arrival lobby with hesitant hugs.

The clerk didn’t seem to grasp Louise’s reference, but when she collected our licenses, she was attentive enough to catch our dates of birth. She turned and yelled, “Girls, come look–triplets!”

It had been years since we’d been subjected to this kind of foolishness. We watched as her pair of coworkers stood from their desks and approached the counter. I could guess what was coming next: we didn’t look anything alike; we had varying shades of brown and blond hair; even our bodies and the ways we dressed, so different. Louise stopped their small talk before it could start, outstretching her hand to silence the room. “Look, our father just died, okay? Let’s sign what we need to sign and get this over with.”

One of the things I love about Heim’s work–and having only read one novel over twenty years ago and now this short story–is that he often writes about the aftereffects, and the aftermath, of traumas and how the victims deal and cope. This is something that interests me; I often think and wonder about how people who’ve dealt with something–my husband is a serial sex offender; my father murdered my mother, my grandfather was a serial killer–they had no control over cope and go on with their lives; I’m actually writing a story dealing with that sort of thing right now (one of the many stories I have in some sort of progress right now; it’s called “He Didn’t Kill Her”), and also those who were directly victimized–how do they deal? How do they cope? How do they go on with their lives after something so traumatic happens to them?

This is why this century’s reboots and sequels to Halloween interest me, because they show how Laurie Strode, years later, was psychologically damaged and who she became; one of the things I loved about the Scream films is they showed how everything that has happened to her has turned Sydney into a different person from who she imagined she’d be before the murders started.

Heim doesn’t write about the peripherally damaged; he writes about those who actually were damaged first-hand. In “Loam”, his triplets are clearly damaged by something that happened to them when they were children; they are returning to bury their father and clearly have not been back to Kansas in years. It isn’t clear what happened to them–it may have just been bad parenting in the beginning–and it isn’t until they stop at a second-hand store (what we used to call “junk shops” when I was a kid) and find some strange and mysterious pictures of their first grade classmates on a table that the memories of the past–and what they went through–begin to come to the fore.

I do wish Scott Heim would write more. This story, sad and dark and mysterious, is everything I love to read.

This: The afternoon we’d been dreading lay before us in hot, wet highways flanked by sorghum and corn and glistening shocks of wheat. It was late summer, already harvest season, and the fields shuddered in the wind, the grains full and heavy as though fed with blood–I wish I’d written that.

Buy it or borrow it if you have Amazon Prime. It’s very well worth the time.

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Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys

So here we are, New Year’s Eve, and the last day of the twenty-teens. It’s been a long haul; 2010 seems a million years ago, and my life and careers have taken many paths over those last ten years. 2010 was the year after one of my publishers collapsed–or rather, stopped paying me while continuing to sell my books. They never did finish paying the advance for my last book for them in 2009, Murder in the Garden District, and and they never paid my royalties for the books of mine they still had in print; my last check from them for royalties was received in January 2009. I never received another cent from them after that; I’d already received the first half of the advance for Garden District when I turned it in to them in late 2008. They never answered my emails, ignored my registered letters–yet continued to sell and make money from my work. 2010 was also the year I served on my local chapter board of Mystery Writers of America, and also the year I was elected president near the end and joined the National Board for the first of four years.

2010 was also the year Paul and I went to Tiger Stadium for the first time ever, to watch LSU play Mississippi live; we got there many many hours early before the game started so we could drink in the entire experience of Game Day on a college campus in the South. Paul had never been to a major college stadium before; had never been to a live SEC game before, and part of the pleasure I derived from that day was seeing Paul experience an SEC Game Day for the first time. We’ve been to many games since then, but that first one–in which LSU scored in the final minute to win–remains one of my favorite memories.

I went to Bouchercon in San Francisco that year, saw some college friends for the first time in decades, and was still a starstruck fan boy. I have since been to many others; Albany and Long Beach and Raleigh and New Orleans and Toronto and St. Petersburg (I had to miss Dallas this year because I was ill). I am even on their board now.

I started publishing y/a fiction that year as well; Sorceress came out that year, followed by Sleeping Angel the next. In the twenty-teens I published four new Scotty novels and two additional Chanse novels; some stand-alones; dabbled in romantic suspense (Timothy, The Orion Mask); and somehow managed to get nominated for some mainstream crime writing awards. (I’m 1 for 3 at this point.) I made some amazing new friends along the way this past decade, and while I definitely got older, slowed down, and experienced other physical changes I wouldn’t recommend to anyone, it’s been, for the most part, an absolutely lovely ride. I also lost some friends along the same way, but that’s not something (or anyone) I waste too much time worrying about.

This past year was a lovely capper to the decade that was; an Anthony nomination for a short story was lovely, as was the publication of my short story collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and the eighth Scotty, Royal Street Reveillon. I had a lovely short story in the wonderful Murder-a-Go-Go’s anthology (“This Town”–and now, whenever I hear the song, I think of it as mine), got a story into the Dark Yonder anthology (“Moist Money”), came up with a great idea for the next book I intend to write if I ever clear out the unfinished ones languishing on my flash drive, and of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge the magical season LSU is having this season. New Orleans is going to be insane the weekend before and the day of January 13th. (I am debating whether I should take the day off and go wandering in the Quarter and to the LSU pep rally; I mean, how often will I get the chance to do just that?)

In a few hours I’ll be at Commander’s Palace for the annual New Year’s Eve lunch which will be lovely as well–I’m already thinking about my Bloody Mary–and then Paul and I will come home to chill and relax. Paul is probably going to go down to the Quarter with some friends to watch the fireworks; I, tired old soul that I am, will probably be asleep before the fleur-de-lis drops at Jackson Square. But that’s okay; I love that I’ve also somehow managed, in the twenty-teens, to drop the FOMO (fear of missing out) I’ve had for most of my life. That’s a personal improvement, I think.

I like to think I’m a better person than I was at the dawn of 2010; there are those who would, perhaps correctly, say that’s a very low bar to clear. Regardless, I am not as prone to anger as I was back then, not as likely to engage on social media (in fact, I only engage with friends and usually to either agree with something they’ve said or tease them), and I’ve also become more aware of things pervasive in our society and culture–racism, misogyny, transphobia–and not just zeroed in on homophobia. I’ve learned, through reading, reasoning, and rational use of logic, that all of these things have the same root and are all simply branches of the same tree: the tree that is White Supremacy, and therefore, all of us–people of color, transfolk, queers, women–are engaged in the same fight against the same enemy, and that the primary tactic of that insidious enemy is divide and conquer–as long as we squabble amongst ourselves while fighting for our rights, their united front seems invincible; because it is through unity of cause and purpose that this horror poisoning our society, culture, and nation can be defeated.

The common enemy has many faces.

And while it is tempting, at my advanced age, to put down my sword and let others take up the fight…I can’t.

So, what does this new decade hold in store for me? What does this New Year mean, what surprises and shocks and opportunities will it bring? I don’t know, I honestly don’t. but while the unknown can be terrifying, I am choosing to embrace it and look forward with hope and optimism. I will continue to write my books, I will continue to work on myself, and I will continue to fight against injustice as long as my fingers can type and as long as I can breathe.

Laura Lippman says you should simply pick a word for the new year rather than set resolutions or goals; I think mine for 2020 is improvement.

So Happy New Year, Constant Reader. Thank you for following me, for reading these words I write every day as I try to figure out the world and my life and who I am; thank you for reading my books and stories. Your support is truly wonderful, and appreciated, and while it might not always seem like it, I am always grateful.

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I’ve Been In Love Before

And just like that, it’s Friday again in New Orleans, with a weekend dawning full of promise and potential. How I choose to squander that promise and potential remains to be seen, quite frankly.

But I am sure I will earn another Olympic gold in procrastination and justification. I am getting rather good at it.

So last night we watched the season finale of American Horror Story: 1984. Sigh. Another season of  great potential, an interesting and diverse cast, and a terrific idea….yet the entire season left me feeling meh. Paul and I laughed our way through the finale, which, for a “horror story” is perhaps not the best intended reaction? I guess making an homage to slasher films from the 1980’s, including a summer camp, and then making it completely camp wasn’t what I was expecting, and frankly, when it comes to clever campy homages Scream set a bar so damned high that its sequels couldn’t even clear–but they came close. For a brief moment, as I watched, I did think oh, this is clever–he’s doing a pastiche of an entire series of slasher movies, like following the arc of the Friday the 13th’s first few films or so…but no, I wasn’t right. But that would be a much more clever idea than what we were given, frankly.

I’ve always said that the line between the horror and crime genres–be it film, novels, short stories, or television–is a very thin one that gets crossed rather frequently. The Silence of the Lambs is considered a horror film (I’ve not read the book; it’s in my TBR pile along with Red Dragon, and I will eventually get to them both), but it’s also very much a procedural: Clarice Starling, federal agent, is part of the team trying to catch a brutal serial killer, Buffalo Bill. Filming it as a horror film made it suspenseful and terrifying; much more so than had it been filmed as a straight-up procedural (which is why I am very curious about the novels). I’ve always wanted to do a straight-up novel about a mass, or spree, killing–which is what slasher movies really are at heart–that begins in the aftermath of a night like Halloween, when the police are called to the scene of a mass killing with brutalized, butchered bodies everywhere–or when the state police arrive at the camp at Crystal Lake; the first quarter/third of the book is the discovery of the bodies and the lead detective trying to place together the time-line of the murders. That’s as far as I’ve ever gotten with the idea, honestly; if I can ever figure out where to go from there, I’ll probably write it (although it occurs to me that what would be rather clever would be to alternate between the night before, when it’s happened, and the following morning as the detective puts the time line together….hmmmm *makes note*).

I also have an idea about a novel set in a ghost town in the California mountains–I’ve had this idea for quite some time, going back to the 1980’s (almost all of my California ideas were born in the 1980’s, when I lived there), and my mind keeps coming back to it from time to time. I think the idea was born from reading Stephen King’s short story “The Raft”, and then seeing it on film in Creepshow 2 (Paul Satterfield in that skimpy yellow speedo made quite an impression on me; it even occurs to me now that may have subliminally had a connection to my short story “Man in a Speedo”); the basic concept was the same–five or six college students decide to spend a weekend camping in a ghost town, getting drunk and high and having sex–only to have it all go South in the most terrifying way. I also realize that the “group of young people come to a remote location and all get killed off gradually” is probably the more hoary of the horror tropes; in order to do something like that one has to not only do it exceptionally well,  but say something new. I wanted to call it Sunburst, because that would be the name of the remote ghost town; a town that sprung up around a gold mine that eventually petered out and the town died with it. I also wanted it to be set in the mountains because–well, because the mountains in California are so beautiful–I wanted to set it on a mountain top that had a lovely view across a valley or canyon to Yosemite National Park.

This is why I never get anything done, really–I have so many ideas, and get new ones all the time, and so things get pushed to the side and forgotten until something reminds me of the original idea. I also like to think that I will eventually come back around to the idea and write it…it has happened before, of course–Sara, Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, Dark Tide all come to mind–and so it’s not so hard to believe those ideas’ time will eventually come. Hell, even Bury Me in Shadows was originally conceived of in the 1980’s, as a short story I wrote called “Ruins”–and the idea was always there in the back of my mind; which is partly why I finally decided to write the damned thing.

Finishing it, on the other hand, seems to be an enormous problem thus far. I am hoping to break this lengthy non-writing streak–well, I’ve been writing a bit here and there, just not producing on a daily basis the amount I not only should be but can do as a general rule–this weekend. The LSU game is Saturday night, and while yes, Auburn-Georgia is in the afternoon, I’m not so sure I care that much about watching it. Background noise, maybe, and if it’s a Georgia rout I can always turn it off….and I’m not so sure when the Saints game is on Sunday. I am also falling into the trap of thinking oh I have a week off for Thanksgiving come up and I can finish it then. No, no, NO. I should finish it before then, so I can spend that week polishing it and making it pretty before sending it off on December 1.

I seriously don’t know what to do, to be perfectly honest. I just know I need to be writing more than I am–and if not the book, then a short story or something. AUGH.

And since I don’t have to go in until later, I might as well do some this morning.

Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

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Come Go with Me

I’ve always enjoyed horror as a genre, both in film and in novels. One of the greatest joys of the last decade or so has been the rise of horror television, with terrific shows like American Horror Story (despite its many flaws), The Exorcist, Castle Rock, and so many others. I suppose even The Walking Dead sort of counts as a horror program.

I do not consider myself to be anything more than a horror fan, frankly; I am not an expert, I’ve not read (or watched) everything, I’ve never done any comprehensive studying of the genre. I don’t know what are tropes or stereotypes or what-may-have-you, unless they are so obvious it’s like being hit in the head with a baseball bat. The Haunting of Hill House is one of my favorite novels; Stephen King is one of my favorite writers; I could watch all four Scream movies a million times without ever getting bored or not being entertained–I even enjoyed the MTV television series called Scream, which had nothing to do with the films.

I know so little about the genre that I’m not even sure of the sub-genres contained within; I could write pages about the sub-genres in crime fiction, but horror? I’d be hard-pressed to even name them.

I’ve written two vampire novellas (“The Nightwatchers” and “Blood on the Moon”) and an entire gay erotic vampire novel (Need), and a ghost story novel (Lake Thirteen) and a monster novel (Sara), and I suppose Sorceress would be considered gothic horror–I certainly followed the blueprint for Gothic novels with that one, which was kind of the point. And while there are any number of horror short stories in the files, as well as aborted novels, I’ve never really had much luck in publishing horror. Crime is the genre I know best, and you should always, as they say, write what you know; I always fear my horror attempts are ridiculously derivative of Stephen King–but then again, steal from the best.

I also don’t have a much time to read as I would like, and as such, I tend to primarily read within the crime genre, branching out into horror only occasionally–writers like Bracken MacLeod, Paul Tremblay, Christopher Golden, Michael Rowe, and some others spring to mind–and the pile of unread horror in the TBR stacks continues to grow, it seems, by leaps and bounds every year as I never seem to get around to reading any of them.

But this year, as I’ve noted, I’ve made a conscious effort to read more diverse writers, and the end result of that has been me finding any number of terrific writers I might not have read had I not made an effort, had I allowed myself to continue with the ease of white privilege and simply reading other white writers.

I only regret not making the effort sooner.

certain dark things

Collecting garbage sharpens the senses. It allows us to notice what others do not see. Where most people would spy a pile of junk, the rag-and-bone man sees treasure: empty bottles that might be dragged to the recycling center, computer innards that can be reused, furniture in decent shape. The garbage collector is alert. After all, this is a profession.

Domingo was always looking for garbage and he was always looking at people. It was his hobby. The people were, not the garbage. He would walk around Mexico City in his long, yellow plastic jacket with its dozen pockets, head bobbed down, peeking up to stare at a random passerby.

Domingo tossed a bottle into a plastic bag, then paused to observe the patrons eating at a restaurant. He gazed at the maids as they rose with the dawn and purchased bread at the bakery. He saw the people with the shiny cars zoom by and the people without any cash jump onto the back of the bus, hanging with their nails and their grit to the metallic shell of the moving vehicle.

I’m not sure where I first heard of Silvia Moreno-Garcia; I am friends with members of the horror writing community on social media, and we have friends in common; so I am sure I heard of this book first from one of our mutual friends on Facebook (I have also purchased her next novel, Gods of Jade and Shadow). I decided, as always, to read horror in celebration of Halloween; alas, illness and being overly busy has limited my reading lately, and as such, outside of my annual reread of The Haunting of Hill House, the only horror I was able to squeeze into October was Certain Dark Things, and this is not, by any means, to be seen as any kind of judgment of Ms. Moreno-Garcia’s consummate skill as a storyteller; this has everything to do with me being tired, ill, and unable to focus as a result. Those moments when I was able to focus was when I was able to read this book; and it is, quite frankly, a pleasure and a treasure.

Certain Dark Things is set in a Mexico City that teems with ugliness, darkness, poverty and corruption. As I read the descriptions of the city, I couldn’t help but think damn I bet she could write some brilliant noir set in this version of Mexico City–like I said, my mind always reverts to crime fiction–but this Mexico City, this world Moreno-Garcia has created, is steeped in reality and actual Mexican history–of which I know some, but not nearly enough (my interest in history is colored by, sadly, the white supremacy of American educational systems; focused primarily on the United States and Europe, with some Egyptian thrown in for good measure).

Moreno-Garcia also throws everything anyone who’s ever read about vampires into question from the absolute beginning of the book: perhaps because of Stoker’s Dracula, and every film/television adaptation of some form of it ever since, I have a tendency to always think of vampires as being eastern European/Transylvanian in origin; almost every vampire novel or story I’ve read has been almost entirely white. I myself, when writing my own little vampire stories, fell victim to these same tropes (although I did have Creole witches, which upon new reflection is also kind of problematic). So Certain Dark Things also opened my mind; why would supernatural/paranormal creatures always be white? Are there no supernatural/paranormal creatures or beings from other, non-white cultures?

There are two main characters in the novel: Atl, the female vampire, descended from a long line of vampires going back to Aztec days (and not your typical, Transylvanian vampire, either), and Domingo, a poor young man of the streets who sorts through garbage looking for things to sell to support himself. In this world, there is, like in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels, an awareness that vampires and other creatures like them exist; so Domingo isn’t as terrified when he encounters Atl as he might be, were their reality still in question. Domingo is drawn to Atl, wants to help her and be with her, but it’s not in a romantic way, nor is it a product of being “glamoured” (as Harris called it in her work), either; it’s more along the lines of Atl being the first person to truly see Domingo, and appreciate him, and recognize his humanity despite being of the streets.

And that’s very powerful.

Atl herself is on the run. In this new world Moreno-Garcia has created, Mexico City is an independent city-state where vampires aren’t permitted; she has run there after the annihilation of her clan of vampires in north Mexico. She is on the run and needs to get out of Mexico completely; she has run to the city to hide and to try to find the means to get out of the country. There are many different kinds of vampires in this world; with different abilities and different powers.

There’s a third character, Ana Aguirre, a single mother who works as a police detective in the city, dealing with corruption and sexism every single day, not taken seriously by her superiors, and trying to do whatever she can to ensure a good future for her daughter. Ana is also a strong character, defined and complex; her inner struggle over her own integrity warring with what is the best thing to do for her daughter is masterfully described, and very relatable.

I’d read an entire series about Ana Aguirre in this world, frankly.

Moreno-Garcia doesn’t over-explain this world, either; but somehow, with sparsity of description and a minimal approach to the past few decades that changed the world as we now know it, she manages to create an entire world that is completely believable and easy to become immersed in. The story moves quickly, the characters growing more depth from each experience they have, and it’s all too soon over.

I would love to read more books about Atl and her world; I’d love to read more of Moreno-Garcia’s work.

This is a truly terrific work. I highly recommend it.

The Next Time I Fall

Wednesday has rolled around again and it’s Pay-the-Bills Day. Huzzah.

That’s the worst part of being an adult, methinks–being responsible financially.

hate it.

Ah, well, it’s an evil thing that must be done, alas, for there is no choice.

I was still extremely tired yesterday when I got home from work; it was a long day, of course, and I am probably still recovering from whatever that was I caught at Tiger Stadium Saturday night–my throat is still sore–and I slept like a stone last night. I was so relaxed and comfortable this morning I didn’t want to get out of bed, and in fact, stayed in bed much longer than I probably should have. What can I say? Sleep is essential, and necessary, and I clearly needed more. I probably should have stayed home again yesterday, to make sure I was completely rested and over everything, but…yeah. I felt well enough to go to work and so I did.

I am, as ever, behind on everything; I tried yesterday but just didn’t have the energy to focus and get things done. I’ll have to do better today, as the month of October is clearly slipping through my fingers. But I have to make groceries on the way home from work tonight, and I’m not sure how much energy I’ll have once I get home. I need to remember to conserve my energy, and not expend it all the time. This weekend I seriously need to get my shit together and get some work done on the Lost Apartment–it’s seriously filthy; the LSU-Mississippi State game is the marquee game on CBS Saturday, so it’ll be on smack dab in the middle of the day, at 2:30–which means I’ll be on the emotional rollercoaster until sometime after five. So, clearly Saturday is the day I need to run errands and focus on cleaning around here, so I can devote Sunday to writing.

I keep getting more ideas on how to make Bury Me in Shadows a better book than it currently is; so that’s going to be my primary focus for the rest of this month–getting that finished. I think part of the problem I’ve been having this month so far has been lack of focus; I’ve been far too scattered with my energies this month, which is always a problem with me–that and focus. Squirrel! See what I mean?

And let’s be serious, any ideas I get on how to make the current WIP better are welcomed. I groan and moan about the additional work its going to cause me, but I already knew the manuscript needed work, and there were holes and inconsistencies in the story–the ever popular oh why would they do this other than I need them to in order to advance the story keeps popping up, and that’s what, frankly, needs the work. There’s nothing worth than having contrivances in your story.

Last night the SEC Network rebroadcast the LSU-Florida game, and as I already mentioned, I was too tired to do much of anything last night–even read–so I just put the television on the game yet again–I rewatched it Sunday night, but was so ill and tired I kept falling asleep and it was primarily on for background noise, that’s how tired I was–and as I watched the  game again my mind started wandering again–back to the first LSU game Paul and I ever attended, back in 2010 against Ole Miss. That game was also a nail-biter, with LSU finally clinching the win with a touchdown in the final minute of the game. LSU has, as I’ve mentioned before, never lost when we are in the stadium. I then remembered that I promised to dedicate my next book to the Judge and his wife, Janet, if they gave us those tickets–which they did, and so I did, and that book was, I believe, Sleeping Angel. Janet and the Judge have gifted us with their game tickets at least once per season ever since–others have given us tickets over the years as well, and we’ve sometimes bought them on Stubhub–and as I was thinking about Sleeping Angel, I realized, wow, I haven’t thought about that book in YEARS.

I had written a foreword for the new edition of Jay B. Laws’ The Unfinished, which was brought back into print yesterday byReQueered Tales–this was the essay I was struggling with several months ago–and while I did get it finished (the publisher loved it, I might add, writing me back to tell me it was beautifully written), in the posts about the book’s release yesterday I was referred to as “legendary writer Greg Herren” and other such complimentary things. I am always, inevitably, taken aback by such pronouncements–I don’t see myself as legendary, or any of the other kind ways people refer to me these days; mainly because when I think of legendary queer crime writers I think about Michael Nava and John Morgan Wilson, among others. It isn’t fake humility, either–although I’ve been accused of that before. I generally don’t, as a rule, tend to think about myself in those kinds of terms; therein lies, I believe, the path to madness–which I really don’t need any help finding, thank you very much. Felice Picano told me once, a long time ago, that if you stick around long enough you’ll get respected for the longevity, if nothing else…and it’s also weird to me when I realized I’ve been doing this consistently for seventeen years.

I was also thinking, in my roundabout way last night, about the need to buckle down and focus. I was talking with another writer friend yesterday about short stories–we’d both written a story for the same anthology–and we exchanged our stories, which turned out to be vastly different. But I loved hers–it’s wickedly funny–and she loved mine, which was also very cool. I love writing short stories, even though I often struggle with them, and right now I have two out for submission, and about three that are pending publication. I have two collections I want to do–Monsters of New Orleans, which would be Gothic horror stories set here, and Once a Tiger and Other Stories, which would compile my crime short stories that have been written and/or published since Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories was published. I was also thinking I need to rename Once a Tiger and Other Stories; maybe This Town and Other Stories, since people really seemed to like my story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s a lot. I was also thinking about doing the four novellas into one book thing, like Stephen King has done–which would most likely have  Never Kiss a Stranger anchoring the collection. I’d of course have to get permission from Kensington to reprint “The Nightwatchers” in this collection, and if they don’t give it to me, I’d have to write another, which wouldn’t be the end of the world, either. I’d always wanted to turn “The Nightwatchers” into a series; it’s loosely connected to both the vampire novella and novel I later wrote as Todd Gregory–“Blood on the Moon” and Need–but have never gotten back to them. (The next book I’d planned would have been Desire.)

I was also thinking I should dedicate another book to the Judge and Janet; the game experience was so amazing on Saturday night I should do something incredibly nice for the two of them again.

And maybe I should revisit Sleeping Angel. It, along with Sorceress, was set in the mountains of California, in the small city of Woodbridge; I’d intended to write several novels set there, and connect all my y/a fiction together in some way. Laura, the main character in Sorceress, was from the small rural area of Kansas where I also set Sara; and I keep forgetting that Dark Tide is also kind of connected to Bury Me in Shadows, which is also kind of connected to Lake Thirteen and Sara. 

I also have an unfinished manuscript, tentatively titled Spellcaster, which is also set in Woodbridge with some character overlap.

I was trying to do an R. L. Stine thing.

And on that note, the bills aren’t going to pay themselves, so I best put on my mining cap and head back into the spice mines.

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Blowing Kisses in the Wind

Rereading ‘salem’s Lot again, after many years, has proven to be quite a treat: there was clearly a reason why I loved this book so much and why I’ve reread it about a gazillion times. It has always been my favorite vampire novel, and certainly one of my favorite horror novels. It scared the shit out of me when I first read it back when I was a teenager, and it has always entertained me, every single I’ve read it, even though I know what’s going on in the town, what’s going to happen, who lives, who dies. I remember there’s been talk over the years–I think even Stephen King may have aided and abetted this at times–that there might be a sequel; I’ve long since given up on that hope–despite always wanting to know whatever became of Ben Mears and Mark Petrie…and did they ever return to that awful town in Maine?

In the 1980’s, I decided that I wanted to be a writer like Stephen King. I started writing horror short stories, and even came up with an idea for a full-length horror novel called The Enchantress; I still have those four chapters I wrote in my files before I finally put it away for good. The book itself, while influenced most strongly by King, was also influenced by Peter Straub’s Floating Dragon, which I had also recently read–I’d loved Ghost Story and If You Could See Me Now–and wanted to write about, the way King did so often, a small town where something supernatural–and terrifying–happens. I blatantly copied the narrative structure of Floating Dragon (oh look! Four different point of view characters! One an old man, one a child, one a man in his early thirties, and the other a woman with psychic abilities that have basically cursed her life!) but I was also trying to weave some other elements into the story that might not have ultimately worked; it was set in the panhandle of Florida, for one thing, and it had to do with the curse of a witch on four different families (a la Floating Dragon, only he didn’t have a witch), and I don’t think that would have ultimately worked. The idea was also built around a concept I had, an idea, about evil, killer mermaids. I eventually used some of the story and the concepts for Dark Tide, whose original working title was Mermaid Inn.

It’s funny that rereading ‘salem’s Lot brings back such weird memories, isn’t it? I may get around to writing The Enchantress someday–it just can’t be set in Florida, because it needs cliffs–so maybe I’ll move it to a fictional town on the California coast.

Like King–another thing I stole from him–almost all of my books are connected to each other in some way. For years, the connection between the Chanse and Scotty series were my cops–Venus Casanova and Blaine Tujague–appeared in both series; why have different homicide cops in the same city? I had originally intended to connect everything; Woodbridge in California, from Sleeping Angel and Sorceress are connected to the small town in Kansas from Sara; I don’t recall off the top of my head how Lake Thirteen plays into my world-building; but I think the Chicago suburb where the main character in that book is from was the same suburb that the kid from Sara was from, and so on. I always wanted to go back and write some more about Woodbridge; I kind of saw my teen/young adult fiction as being similar in type and style as the Fear Street series by R. L. Stine; which were all in the same town and often minor characters in one book was the main character in another. (Woodbridge was loosely based on Sonora, where some of my college friends were from; I visited them several times up there in the mountains and it was stunningly beautiful up there. One of the few great things about spending the 1980’s in Fresno was accessibility to Yosemite, Sierra National Forest, and Kings Canyon.)

I may get back to this at some point; Bury Me in Satin is connected in that it returns to the part of Alabama where the main character in Dark Tide is from, and more connections might develop as I write the book. I’ve pretty much decided to try to get the first draft of Bury Me in Satin written for Nanowrimo, which is something I’ve never done before; but why not? I am not going to officially participate, but why not use it as a goal to get the first draft of the story done?

I am on chapter nineteen of the revision of Royal Street Reveillon; one big strong last push is all it will take for me to get that finished by the end of the month, and I am enormously pleased at the prospect. It’s shaping up nicely; I think there are still a few holes in the story I am going to have to figure out how to plug later, but that’s perfectly fine.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Small Town

I’m never really certain how to describe where I’m from; because it isn’t simple. I was born in Alabama, which is where my people are from (which is what we say in Alabama), but we moved to Chicago when I was two. We lived in the city until I was ten, which is when we moved out to the suburbs. I was fourteen when we moved to Kansas, and nineteen when I followed my parents to California. Since California, I’ve lived in: Houston, Tampa, Houston, Tampa, Minneapolis, New Orleans, DC, and then back to New Orleans once and for all. So, saying I grew up in Kansas isn’t quite accurate, nor is I grew up in Chicago. I graduated from high school in Kansas, so there is that. I consider New Orleans home; I’ve certainly lived here longer than I have anywhere else in my life, but in a sense, I am kind of ‘homeless’ in that regard. I’ve always pretty much considered wherever my parents live to be home, even though now they live somewhere I’ve never actually lived–so I lazily say I’m going home to see my parents, even though their current home has never really been my home; I guess in that sense that wherever my parents are is home because my parents define, for me, where that indescribable, undefinable place that I call home would be. I also think of Alabama as home, too; though I haven’t lived there in fifty-five years and I have no memory of ever living there.

Does that make sense?

New Orleans is home for me now; Alabama is where I’m from, but I also consider anywhere my parents live to also be home.

Is it any wonder I am barely clinging to my sanity with my fingernails?

And yes, I lived in a very small town in Kansas: I believe the population of Americus was 932 when I lived there (that number is stuck in my head, so it came from somewhere), and moving there, even from a suburb of Chicago, was a bit of culture shock for me. (Not nearly as big as the shock must have been for my parents, moving from a mostly country existence in a remote part of Alabama to Chicago when they were twenty with two toddlers.) The streets didn’t have names or numbers; and at the main intersection in town there was a blinking red light hovering over the center, suspended on wire that waved and swayed in the wind. There was a gas station and a tiny little food place called the Katy Drive-in; what was now the Americus Road that you took to “go to town” (the county seat, Emporia, about eight miles away) used to be the Katy Railroad Line, long gone and almost completely forgotten. We caught the bus at the grade school, which had been the high school until its conversion when the old grade school was condemned by the fire marshall; people in town were still bitter about the loss of the town’s high school and the students being absorbed into the consolidated high school, about sixteen miles from town: Northern Heights High School, about a mile east of yet another small town named Allen. Northern Heights’s student body was an amalgamation of farm kids and kids from five towns: Americus, Bushong, Allen, Admire, and Miller, each of which used to have it’s own grade and high school.

It was strange for me, but being the new kid  had added benefits to it; no one knew, at my new school, that at my previous school I was picked on and sort of mocked and belittled and made fun of; had gay slurs sneered at me in the hallways since the seventh grade, sometimes cornered by a group of boys who got their jollies by mocking me and making me worry about physical violence. By the time some of the kids at my new school realized that I was different not only because I was new and from the big city but because I was harboring the deep secret that I was gay it was the second semester of my senior year and I only had a few months to endure slurs and mocking laughter, of finding Greg Herren sucks cock written in magic marker on my locker or on the desk I usually sat in during a class.

Kansas has been on my mind a lot lately; Constant Reader will no doubt remember that several months ago I had dinner with a classmate, passing through town on his way to a long bike ride along the Natchez Trace. That dinner reminded me of things I hadn’t thought about in years; the smell of corn fields after the rain, the brooding heat, how you could see a thunderstorm coming from miles away across the flat terrain, and the long drive to school. The WIP is set in a town based on Emporia; Sara was set in a high school based on the one I attended. Laura, my main character in Sorceress, was from Kansas and had gone to the Sara high school until her parents’ death, which is the impetus that ended with her in the California mountains. My story “Promises in Every Star” is set at an imaginary high school reunion in Kansas, where my main character returns for the first time in years.

I do have a lot of fond memories of my high school years in Kansas; I don’t want to make it seem as though I don’t. But the passing of time and the malignant spread of nostalgia through my brain hasn’t yet succeeded in dulling the bad memories either, or painting over them with a golden, rosy sheen.

But I also wouldn’t be who I am now were it not for that time, so I can’t be bitter or angry about the bad; you can’t have the good that came from then without having to accept the bad. And there was a lot of good, really, a lot of fun and laughter. Even were I not a gay kid terrified of what would happen if anyone knew–although more knew than I was aware back then–being from the city would have made me different anyway; as would being a creative type who loved to read and aspired to be a writer.

I would have been different anyway; the main issue of almost all of my life experiences before I finally came to terms with who I am, my difference, was always predicated in my mind on my sexuality; it took a long time for me to realize that my difference wasn’t just the gay thing because the gay thing overrode everything else.

Heavy thoughts for a Sunday morning.

And you will be pleased to know, Constant Reader, that I have returned to the Short Story Project. Next up is “Nemesia’s Garden” by Mariano Alonso, from Cemetery Dance, Issue 79, edited by Richard Chizmar:

Why is it that the secrets we don’t like to talk about during our lives are the same secrets we don’t want to take to the grave with us?

The day before dying on a hospital bed after a long battle with cancer, my mother told me a story that happened the year before I went off to college. The story was as strange as the time she chose to share it.

For many years, my mother worked as a cleaning lady in several private residences on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Upper West Side. She was an illegal immigrant with basic education and poor English-language skills; for this reason she was in no position to negotiate with her wealthy patrons for a fair wage that, at least, was always in cash and tax-free.

This is a creepy ass story about two twisted, elderly sisters–one disabled, the other cruel–which is more than a little reminiscent of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane in style and theme and tone, but I greatly enjoyed reading it. It’s told from the perspective of their cleaning woman, an illegal immigrant who is telling the story to her son, as you can tell above, when she is dying, because she can’t go to her grave with the creepy tale on her conscience.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Live to Tell

Well, yesterday was a complete wash as far writing is concerned. I did write about 200 words on the Scotty book, but it was one of those things where once I started trying I could tell I wasn’t going to get very far with it. I was not feeling it, as some might say, and there’s simply no point to forcing it on those days unless I particularly want to feel incredibly frustrated.

And I didn’t want to feel that way.  So, I didn’t try to force it.  Sometimes I can force it and, as Stephen King so aptly put it in Misery, the page will open and I will fall into it. Other days, not so much. Yesterday was definitely one of those days.

Not being able to, apparently, write yesterday led me to trying to be productive in some manner, so I started going through old stories and partial drafts of work-in-progress to see if there was anything that could provide a base for this short story I want to write for a market on my bucket-list (I don’t know why I’m being coy; it’s Cemetery Dance). I always forget that I hand-wrote and then manually typed about twenty or thirty short stories (or fragments of short stories) in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s; I paid someone to type them up as Word documents about ten years ago in case any of them might be usable, reworkable, etc. (They are all terrible…there’s nothing quite so humbling as going back and reading things you wrote years before you knew how to really write.) I printed out about five or six that had potential–based on my memory of them–and I intend to read them over this weekend and see if, indeed, there is anything worth salvaging in them.

I do need to say that one of these longer stories became my novel Sorceress, and some of the others were salvaged and turned into something else, so this is not without precedent….hell, I wrote three chapters of a horror novel back then called The Enchantress that eventually became the foundation of my novel Dark Tide. (In fact, I had turned one of those chapters into a short story, which is one of those I printed out last night.) I don’t think the short story adaptation works, but just remembering the story again made me remember that failed attempt at a novel, and also it was actually a pretty good idea, maybe now you should revisit it?

And this is how, Constant Reader, my creative ADD gets out of control. Last night I was watching documentaries–one was for curiosity; but it triggered a reminder of a book I wanted to write, so the entire time I was sitting there watching it I was also scribbling notes for the book idea. When that documentary finished, I started watching another one, and again, this documentary–I only got about twenty minutes into it–solved an issue with another book idea I had, and made that particular book idea–one I hope to write later this year–even better than it was originally.

This is, of course, kind of exciting…if you don’t take into consideration the fact that I am already writing two novels and have the next one planned as well.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I also want to finish reading this damned Roth novel. There are so many other things I want to read, but I am stubbornly determined to finish reading this damned book.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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